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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

RECORDING OF THE MONTH

 

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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
The Violin Sonatas

CD 1
Sonata for Piano and Violin in F, K.376 [16:38]
Sonata for Piano and Violin in E flat, K.302 [12:05]
Sonata for Piano and Violin in G, K.379 [15:52]
Sonata for Piano and Violin in B flat, K.454 [15:30]
CD 2
Sonata for Piano and Violin in A, K.305 [16:44]
Sonate für Violine und Klavier Nr. 26 B-dur KV 378 [19:30]
Sonate für Violine und Klavier Nr. 18 G-dur KV 301 [13:19]
Sonata for Piano and Violin in E flat, K.481 [23:27]
CD 3
Sonata for Piano and Violin in C, K.296 [15:39]
Sonata for Piano and Violin in E flat, K.380 [20:07]
Sonata for Piano and Violin in F, "für Anfänger", K.547 [16:34]
Sonata for Piano and Violin in D, K.306 [19:20]
CD 4
Sonata for Piano and Violin in C, K.303 [9:44]
Sonata for Piano and Violin in F, K.377 [18:50]
Sonate für Violine und Klavier Nr. 21 e-moll KV 304 [14:21]
Sonate für Violine und Klavier A-dur KV 526 [20:52]
Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin)
Lambert Orkis (piano)
rec. Philharmonie im Gasteig, Munich, February 2006.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 002894775801 [4 CDs: 68:19 + 70:12 + 72:56 + 64:04]

 

The box announces this as “The Grand Finale of Anne-Sophie Mutter’s ‘Mozart Trilogy’”, and indeed, keen collectors will already be familiar with the exotic Jugenstil artwork on the well received Concertos and Trios ‘Limited Edition’ sets. The presentation is indeed richly peppered with nice photos of Anne-Sophie Mutter in a very posh frock. The whole thing reminds me of the plush Deutsche Grammophon LP productions of the 1970s – distinctive and desirable, guaranteed to raise the tone of any serious music-lover’s shelves. 

The DG website allows that dangerous word ‘complete’ when applied to this set, and the implication of ‘The Violin Sonatas’ should of course be tempered by Ms Mutter’s own admission that “the early works have never interested me, as the violin merely accompanies the right hand – as it does with Haydn.” So, not complete, but certainly a thorough overview of Mozart’s Mannheim period, and the two phases of his life in Vienna – the mature sonatas. “I’m not out to prove that I’ve recorded all that Mozart ever wrote for the violin and piano. This survey contains the works that are important to me personally and that are central to Mozart’s output as a composer.” 

These recordings are described as live, but there is no applause and very little ambient noise – certainly nothing which in any way disturbs the flow of the music. There has also been some editing – evidenced by a careless glitch at 3:46 into the Rondeau of K.378 among other places (1:39 into the Adagio of K.481 is a bit of a giveaway as well). The Munich acoustic is pleasantly resonant without being overly swimmy, and the all-important balance between the violin and the equally important piano part is perfect. There are plenty of moments where the violin has an accompanying role to the piano, and Mutter has plenty of space to play sotto voce where required. This is, thank goodness, a true chamber music performance and recording, with no unnaturally star-struck spotlighting. 

Pick any moment on any of the discs, and you will find yourself being drawn into intriguing musical dialogue of almost infinite fascination. We have become so used to the violin taking the lead and the piano playing an accompanying role in sonatas, that the opening of (say) the Andantino, second movement Sonata in B flat major K.378 sounds almost modern, with the violin adding single-note brushstrokes to an extended melodic solo in the piano. Mutter is always restrained and meticulously accurate with phrasing in this kind of sensitive passagework, which can make or ruin such sensitive material. Her virtuosity in faster movements is effortless and elegantly flowing, allowing the music to breathe and develop in the same deceptively easy atmosphere in which it appears to have been written – or so Mozart would have us believe.

The booklet notes have an admirable commentary by Tully Potter, but are also partly taken up in the form of an interview with Ms Mutter in which she pinpoints all of these vital aspects of performing these most demanding of pieces: “With Mozart not a single note is conjured from thin air…. None of these pieces is easy. Mozart has a habit of suddenly demanding that after a wonderfully beautiful elegiac melody you have to perform a triple somersault from a standing start.” It might have been interesting to have some comments from the pianist as well, seeing as how both parts are equal: some more equal than others, apparently. Those most searingly beautiful of moments, like the slow movements of K.378, K.481 or K.304 are given a lyrical purity of voice by both Mutter and Lambert Orkis – both displaying richness and depth of tone, without weighing the notes down with post-Mozartean romanticism. Mutter is flexible in her tonal inflexions as well, and in the forward-looking Sonata in E minor K.304 we are given the full-bodied assertiveness demanded by some of the motifs in the opening Molto Allegro. 

The competition in this field is not as hot as one might expect, and this collection is therefore a valued addition to the current catalogue. Listeners who desire an authentic fortepiano period sound will already be collecting the excellent Channel Classic set with Rachel Podger and Gary Cooper, and genuine Mozart fans will probably already have Itzhak Perlman and Daniel Barenboim in their highly desirable DG reissue set, also on 4 CDs. The Naxos label is issuing a complete issue with Takako Nishizaki and various pianists (Jenö Jandó for one), which will of course have a bargain advantage. I was going to say it’s more workmanlike than inspired from what I’ve heard of it, but with Michael Cookson praising the latest volume with the Nishizaki-Loeb partnership I may have to revise my opinions. I still have a sneaking affection for Igor Oistrakh and Natalia Zertsalova but have never come across their Melodiya set on CD. Various single CD recital discs will have their own jewels of this repertoire on offer, but a more consistently wonderful ‘complete’ set than this new DG recording you won’t find for money or love.

Dominy Clements

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